Saul Kaplan: Innovation, Blessing or Curse?

cheeriosBeing an innovator is both a blessing and a curse.  Innovators are constantly seeking to improve things by finding a better way.  A questing personality is a blessing providing innovators with a source of personal pride, accomplishment, and exhilaration.  At the same time an innovator’s job is never done.  There is always a better way.  A sense of perpetual incompleteness and never being satisfied torments most innovators I know.  I think this blessing and curse dichotomy is the secret sauce that makes innovators tick.  It motivates innovators to take personal risks, collaborate with unusual suspects to find a missing piece, and jump through incredible hoops seeking a better way.   Innovators wouldn’t have it any other way.

There is always a better way.  It doesn’t matter how innocuous or small a thing from everyday life it is.  You can always tell an innovator because they fixate on addressing small things with the same child-like enthusiasm they readily deploy to large complex societal problems. It’s the little things that often get innovators the most riled up.  I learned this lesson the hard way and share one of many personal examples.  After a long career as a road warrior strategy consultant I found myself at home trying to figure out what I was going to do next in my career. One morning I came downstairs and opened the cupboard that housed breakfast cereal for our three children and found it filled with twelve half-opened cereal boxes. You know the one I am talking about.  Tell me you can’t relate to this important dilemma. I fell into the trap and loudly proclaimed, isn’t there a better way to organize this cereal.  The response was immediate and resounding, thanks for the input, now go find something else to do, preferably out of the house!  I know my wife is groaning reading this thinking, no, not the cereal box story again.  Can’t you come up with a new story for heaven’s sake?  P.S. regarding the cereal box story, the children and the cereal boxes have left home and I miss them both terribly.   Innovators can’t help themselves, no matter how small the challenge, there is always a better way and they are driven to find it.

Saul KaplanIt’s not just the small things. If you are like me it bugs you enough to create new solutions in your head while stuck in an avoidable traffic jam when the information was knowable, when one part of the health care system has no clue of your experience with the rest of it, and when one government agency has no visibility to your history with the agency right next door.  Don’t even get me started on education because it just makes me cry.  It is inconceivable to me how we have let our public school systems atrophy to their current state.  All of the innovators I know are outraged, screaming for transformational change, and willing to roll up their sleeves and help design a better way.

Innovators are constantly deconstructing life experience and coming up with new approaches to delivering value and solving every day problems.  It is rarely about inventing anything new. Innovators often solve problems with existing technology and by recombining capabilities in new configurations to deliver value in a better way.  Innovators are blessed to see a bigger picture enabling a larger palette from which to paint new solutions.

Innovators are also cursed by never being satisfied.  The job is never done.  Celebrations are muted and short-lived as innovators move on to explore the next better way.  Ignorance is never bliss to an innovator.  There is always a missing piece of information that torments innovators and keeps them up at night until they find it.  And when they think they have a bead on it two more compelling questions arise and the constant quest continues.  Innovators are generally anxious people who feed their anxiety by moving toward the edge where the best knowledge flows are.  Innovators are perpetually exhausted not wanting to miss an opportunity to advance an idea, connect with someone who can help, or find that missing piece of information.  It is a curse that innovators gladly accept and have reconciled themselves to live with.  Innovators are never satisfied and incredibly hard on themselves, but they are convinced in their souls, seeking a better way is both noble and right.

Being an innovator is both a blessing and a curse.  I am grateful to hang out with so many incredible innovators hoping that the blessing part will rub off on me. I already have the curse part covered.


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